Blogging and social change

Blogging today has become an intellectual outlet for the more articulate Filipino middle class. In my view, this rage is a cumulative product of the following:

(1) the explosion of the worldwide web and the accompanying availability of blogging platforms;
(2) the widespread availability of affordable internet access;
(3) this social stratum’s readiness to study and engage in debate on various issues and concerns;
(4) the “individuality” and “personality” sought by individual members of this social stratum;
(5) the closed nature of the established press and media.

Whether blogging may become a tool for social change requires a leap of faith, a recognition of a sense of consciousness by the individual. Some say that the individual’s search for meaning and purpose inevitably pits him/her to social forces that impeding so many individuals. Others falsely describe this as the “activist phase” in life. But it is useful for us to remember what Albert Einstein write in an essay for a progressive US magazine:

Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

Which brings us back to the title of this talk: How do make blogging serve nobler purposes other than individual self-expression?

I say, bloggers must heed Eistein’s clarion call for putting our creativity in service of society.

Unfortunately, that is hard to do, under the present circumstances.

The schools, media, industry and government do not teach this thought. For them Einstein is great only insofar as he was an outstanding scientist and that he may arguably have been the brightest and most intelligent man of his time. Einstein’s socialist ideas remain divorced from the literary and scientific canons.

What the schools, media, industry and government teach are capitulation, pacification, pessimism, cynicism, anti-socialism, elitism, sham democracy, and other lines of reasoning.

Kalaban natin dito ang kaisipang “wala tayong magagawa”, “nandiyan na yan”, “gulong ng palad”, “tadhana”, etc. These are hallmarks of pre-scientific or unscientific world views that maintain the status quo and that deny the need for social change.

As long as these malignant schools of thought continue to dominate the schools, media, industry and government, there will be no incentive or encouragement for critical thinking and for devoting oneself to society.

Indeed, service to society is a subversive idea today. Some are even called terrorists for taking on positions opposed to the sitting President in particular and to the status quo in general.

Looking back at texting

The country’s immediate history gives us an example of how the middle class took hold of a technological tool and made it a weapon for social change. I am referring here to cellphone text messaging which was the weapon of choice by those who took part in the movement to oust Joseph Estrada.

Like other forms of technology, texting per se is value-free. But when the organized forces, especially those from the middle class, saw its potential for arousing, organizing and mobilizing masses of our people, we transformed it into a political tool. Each of the “Erap jokes” became bullets that slowly but surely slayed the demagogic populist and corrupt presidency of Estrada.

The Estrada minions also had access to cellphones and text messaging – but their message of “Erap remain” was so unacceptable that even if they flooded us with millions more of such messages, we would not have been convinced.

Ideology and blogging

As Dennis McQuail cites Alvin Gouldner in his Technology versus Ideology Theory, society’s ability to comprehend complex concepts were at its height when printing and newspaper were the dominant media. “He connects the rise of ideology…to printing and the newspaper, on the grounds that these stimulated a supply of interpretation and ideas (ideology). He then portrays the later media of radio, film and television as having led to a decline of ideology because of the shift from ‘conceptual to iconic symbolism’ … which anticipates a continuing ‘decline in ideology’ as a result of the new computer-based networks of information“. Can you say that the current practice of online blogging leads readers to think for themselves with the resurgence of ideology in political blogging?

The explosion of information through the Internet, combined with the readiness or openness of young people to different and new ideas, propels the introduction of ideologically-inclined blogs, whether the bloggers themselves admit it or not. Simply because the technology is available to them, the young people will and have show that they have used them to their advantage, including the articulation of their political beliefs. This is still in its rudimentary form for many – I mean they are still starting to play with it for political ends – but that is a good start.

Blogging and the masses

The internet, the site for political blogs, is not as accessible as other media forms such as television, radio and print especially to the poorer sectors of society. In other words, the internet contributes to the widening gap of society to access to information. How do political bloggers take this into consideration in getting across their opinion to a much wider audience?

The wider audience media always refer to are the peasant class and workingclass. They are also called the DE market or in political terms, what has been historically referred to as the toiling masses. These people have no time beyond working in order to earn a living and to feed their families. They do not have the luxuries of extra time and extra money to buy a computer and to obtain internet access. It is rare to find peasants and workers fully engaged in blogging.

What we can find in the political sphere are their more traditional vehicles for articulating their class or sectoral interests – their organizations, movements and leaders.

In the meantime, the perpetual challenge for the middle class is to at least stay in the middle class. They fear falling down the level of the peasant or working class. Unfortunately, the chronic economic and political crisis in the country makes the prospect of such disaster hang like a Damocles sword up the heads of those in the middle class.

The only way for the middle class to stay afloat – and this is my personal view obtained by my engagement in social movements – is for them to cast their lot not on the elite. The elite does not want competitors for the shrinking economic and political spoils in society. They don’t want the middle class to join them. If ever some of the latter manage to rise up the social ladder, they are derided as the nouveau rich or the new rich. The elite can always buy them out or sabotage their efforts. They control most of society, including the banks and financial resources which the middle class aim to control too.

The middle class always attains greatness in the political sphere only when it casts its lot on the poor, the so-called marginalized but in reality the most numerous social classes and sectors. Remember the First Quarter Storm. Remember Edsa 1 and 2. If and when the middle class merge their intelligence, creativity, extra time, extra resources with those of the poor, social change happens. In those instances, the middle class becomes champions of the poor and they gain the trust and support of the people.

In short, the middle class bloggers must take the perspective of the people to make their blogging more effective.

Middle class and social change

One of the main themes of media and society theory is power and inequality. Some of the important aspects regarding this theme are the media’s capability of persuasion in terms of public opinion and attracting/directing public attention. According to McQuail, “the internet in turn becomes the new public sphere that provides a more or less autonomous and open arena or forum for public debate.” How can political bloggers use these capabilities of their medium in bringing about social change?

I think I’ve answered this in the first part.

Pervasive world views

One of the highlighted features of the new media is that it allows the existence of differentiated sources of information and ideas. This certainly holds true for political blogs where there is wide access to the thoughts of several opinion makers. In the tabulation of media’s capability to affect social integration there are 4 views plotted by Dennis McQuail—1) the centripetal optimistic view (gearing towards social change, integration, solidarity) versus 2) the centripetal pessimistic view (dominance, uniformity); or 3) the centrifugal optimistic view (freedom, diversity) versus 4) the centrifugal pessimistic view (unity, cohesion, order), on which of the four views, in your perspective does political blogging in the Philippines fall under?

I think I’ve dealt extensively on this point at the start of my talk. But allow me to expound.

McQuail’s so-called views may be further classified into two. These are the two great world views: the scientific view and the pre-scientific view. The predominant world view in the Philippines is the pre-scientific view. It is the ideology of the ruling classes, and they spread this through schools and media, etc. The other view is the progressive scientific viewpoint.

From any of these two viewpoints, individuals make their standpoints on particular issues.

Unfortunately, the Pinoy blogosphere remains a bulwark, a bastion of the pre-scientific view.

I hope more bloggers take the scientific view soon.

Dissent and blogging

According to author Dennis McQuail, in his book Mass Communication Theories, “The more apocalyptic visions of the future indicate a potential for social control through electronic means. The monitoring and tracking of informational traffic and interpersonal contacts are increasing…” With this in mind, how would political bloggers, especially those with dissident views still affect social change given the possible future of a regulated internet? When regulation becomes a reality, how can they prevent the medium from becoming more like the old media of print and broadcasting that is said to be dominated by a few voices?

The war on terror has compromised the security of internet communications. In the US, through the Patriot Act, the government has the power to sniff around emails. The law covers all emails not just those emanating from the US but including those that pass through US-based servers. Elsewhere, bloggers are being arrested, charged, jailed and punished for what they write.

The sad thing about this anti-terrorist hype is that it also encourages the forming of information cartels and in the case of the blogosphere, elite bloggers.

There is always a room for subversion. The authorities cannot control 100 percent of the internet. There will always be room for dissent and free expression. And if they manage to do the impossible – control the internet – the people will invent a new tool that will be more powerful than the internet. ###

1 Comment

  1. shiftee velasco

    Hi sir Tonyo! I’m from the DLSU class that you delivered this interesting talk to. Personally, it was nothing short of an enlightening experience. The question were more than answered. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Thank you sir! Good luck to all of your present and future endeavors.

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